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After years of development, Natalie Portman has finally gotten her directorial debut A Tale of Love And Darkness off the ground. But with production underway on location in Jerusalem, public unrest is brewing fast and fiercely.
Times of Israel (via The Wrap) reports that Portman's production is drawing the ire of local ultra-orthodox residents of Jerusalem's Nahlaot neighborhood. According to a letter these residents sent to the municipality, their issue is as follows:
"The film shooting is set to take place on several sensitive streets close to synagogues and yeshivas, and the scenes being filmed should have been examined first to make sure they don’t offend anybody’s sensitivities."
Basically, it's not Portman's film in particular they object to, more than a film they don't know all the details on is shooting in their neighborhood at all. Some reports say that residents have gone so far as to graffiti the words "foreign invasion" on the walls of the neighborhood of Nahlaot.
Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria spoke out about this conflict, saying:
"There is a constant tension between the desire to celebrate diverse and interesting Jerusalem and the attempts by extremist groups to prevent this. The attraction of the city, its unique architecture and the efforts of the film and television industry will triumph…and the cinematic growth we’ve seen in Jerusalem in recent years will continue to flourish also tomorrow with Natalie Portman in Nahlaot."
These outraged residents are furious with the municipality for not informing them about the details of the shoot. But authorities have assured locals that the foreign film crew would be respectful of the culture's modesty mores, promising that all the cast and crew will dress conservatively while in the neighborhood.
Still, residents shouldn't have much cause for concern as to the film itself. A Tale of Love And Darkness is an adaptation of Israeli author Amos Oz's memoir, which is the best-selling book in Israel's history. Since securing its rights from the author himself back in 2007, Portman has been striving to shoot on location as much as possible to better capture the places Oz spoke of in his life story. On top of that, having been born in Jerusalem herself, one can assume Portman will be respectful of the city and its residents as much as possible. Though it's possible residents remember 2005, when Portman caused a stir while starring in Free Zone. At the time, an on-location kiss near the Wailing Wall, where men and women are prohibited from socializing or touching, caused uproar. Still, it's likely Portman's learned from that experience.
Strangely, a follow-up article from the Times of Israel backpedalled on the claims of protest and graffiti, and noted that production on February 11th had proceeded without incident. Furthermore, the municipality is now claiming they never received the letter from residents that is quoted above. So were the initial reports overblown? Or is Jerusalem working hard to make the city seem welcoming to other filmmakers who might be looking to shoot there? We'll keep an eye on this production as it develops.